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A Letter from Anatolia

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The attraction of sellers is perhaps the most important part of the business. Since many top level sales have hidden partners in the transaction, one wishes to be known as the seller who brings in the highest possible return for ones' partners. This can be very lucrative if someone has found a major textile (a Seljuk carpet fragment, for example), and this someone is a poor village "picker," with no foreign language and no ability to make a good impression on a potential (high paying) foreign customer. Naturally, "pickers" will bring their "finds" to the person they think will bring them the most return.
I remember a very cold winter in Konya about 20 years ago. There was ice and snow, little or no heating, and gas was scarce. We were sitting around the rug depot talking late into the night (it was too cold to go home, and the military government was lenient about our observing the curfew), when there was a phone call from an antique "picker" in far western Turkey. "I got a Seljuk kilim! Hurry!"
In the best of times and road conditions, it was at least an eight-hour drive. Under present conditions it would be at least a 14 hour drive. But we made it in seven hours! We arrived well before all the other dealers he had called. We saw some of them later that day. More importantly, they saw us, and knew we had beaten them to this find. We declined to let them sell it, as our customers would pay more. Later that month, I heard that these same dealers offered to have my friend sell a piece for them to his client. All in all it was a successful drive.
For many years I was a contributing editor for the Oriental Rug Review (a now defunct newspaper). During my travels, I would take the time to interview interesting people I met along the way, as well as offer my impressions of what I observed in the hinterlands. In that spirit, allow to offer some impressions from my last trip (May/June 1998) to Anatolia.

Normal carpet business is down. There seem to be many factors: The unofficial German boycott has reduced coastal hotel occupancy at 60 percent. The new production line of carpets and kilims is not as interesting as the older pieces, which are harder and harder to obtain. There are more and more carpet shops attempting to divide a finite market. Thus, the presentation is diluted, and to the eyes fo the tourist, less interesting.

This has little or no impact on the very old and highly collectible carpet business. It seems to be harder to sell a $1,000 carpet than a $500,000 carpet.

The Kurds in Turkey have become quieter in the past few months. After the revocation of the law that forbade the speaking of Kurdish, many Turks announced that they were Kurds. Recently, I have noticed that these "Kurds" have become Turks again. Please note: In typical Byzantine fashion, no law was passed to legalize Kurdish language and culture - use of Kurdish simply is no longer illegal.

With the impact of the past religious goevermnet, more and more tarikats (Sufi orders) are becoming public. Some of the men even are dressing in the style of the pre-Ataturk revolution. Not only are their song prayers available on cassettes, but even the songs of the Janisseries (once the underground recordings of the Grey Wolves) also are sold publicly.

So called "co-operative holdings" are being started by religious organizations. These are very successful. In Konya, for example, many thousands of local people are joining, hoping to make religiously correct money. One such cooperative is a very large department store with grocery and restaurants combined (but no alcohol). I was told as I was leaving Konya that the government had impounded this company's assets because of "irregularities." My Konya friends thought that these irregularities resulted more from jealousy over the store's success, rather than from substantive practices.

Islam is playing a greater and greater part in the daily lives even of Westernized Turks. This is a marked change from the 1970s and 19805. Especially in Konya, even the young "modern" Turks publicly observe Ramadan these days, although they also will point out clearly their profound differences with "fanatics" and "hypocrites."

Finally, the scandals of the Turkish public scene-linking the government, criminal elements, and the police-continue. The Turkish Daily News gave a whole page of its June 2, 1998 issue to a summary of Turkish news in May. The majority of articles were about domestic scandals, including the shooting of Akin Birdal and the linkage to assassins paid by the state.

In closing, I would like to quote a friend, who, when I asked him for a comment on the political situation in present day Turkey, replied: "They (the government) have not decided yet whether the law will be for everyone and will be applied equally, or whether it will be just for a selected group." As a long time friend of Turkey, I hope that the Turkish political elite makes a decision soon, and that it will be a decision we all can be proud of.


Saul Yale Barodofsky
SunBow Trading Co.
Charlottesville, VA
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